, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 56-61
Date: 12 Feb 2005

Nutrition and lifestyle of the elderly in Europe

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Abstract

Demographic changes all over the world lead to an increasing proportion of elderly people with far-reaching implications for our societies, but also for the individual. Ageing affects nutrition as well as lifestyle: adequate nutrition becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age, whereas physical activity usually decreases. Nutrition and lifestyle, however, are important determinants of health and outcome in the elderly. Our knowledge about nutrition and lifestyle of elderly people in Europe is fragmentary. The most comprehensive information originates from the longitudinal multi-centre SENECA study that started in 1988–1989 and ended in 1999. In addition, several nationwide surveys and a variety of local studies have been performed. According to these studies, nutritional status, dietary habits and food pattern, energy and nutrient intake vary widely across Europe. Median energy intake for example ranged from 7.6 to 11.8 MJ/day in men and from 6.0 to 10.1 MJ/day in women in the SENECA baseline study. The food pattern in southern countries was characterised by high intakes of grain, vegetables, fruit, lean meat and olive oil, whereas elderly people in northern countries consumed more milk products and more often reported the use of nutrient supplements. In some towns considerable proportions of elderly men and women might be at risk of vitamin or mineral deficiency. Great differences between the countries also exist with respect to physical activity of elderly people. In a recent pan-European survey physical activity was highest in Sweden and Finland, where more than 85 % of elderly subjects spent at least 3.5 h per week in physical activity, and lowest in Portugal with only 25 % of active elderly. In summary, there is great variation in nutrition and lifestyle across European countries and even within countries. Information about the situation in Eastern European countries is on the whole missing—or at least not published. The aim of the current research project “Comparative analysis of existing data on nutrition and lifestyle of the ageing population in Europe, especially in the ‘new’ Baltic, Central and Eastern regions of the Community”, funded by the European Commission, is to collect existing data in Europe in this field and review these data critically in a comparative manner.